I was hiding from Storm Desmond in my office last week, warm in front of a roaring fire when my phone rang… Fellow adventurer and Mini Action Man Tobias Mews wanted to know if I fancied a winter run to the summit of Cairngorm… After checking with him that he had indeed seen the weather forecast, I readily agreed and a date was set.By the time I arrived in the car park in Aviemore, the plan had changed a little. With more bad weather threatening an already short winters day, the decision had been made, to add biking into the mix. It turn’s out, that it’s almost a vertical kilometre from Aviemore at 228m to the Ptarmigan Station at 1,097m, so a new VK challenge was born. I was to race Tobias to the Ski Station half way up Cairngorm, from there we would ditch the bikes and run the rest of the way, for a well-earned cup of coffee, to add a little extra spice, it was mountain bike v road bike and I had the short straw.
Tobias and cameraman Dave MacFarlane are on a two-week journey around the National Parks of Britain, spending a day in each to complete a micro adventure and putting the Mini Countryman to the test. So as dark snow clouds started building in the sky above the mountain tops, we quickly sorted through piles of biking and running kit whilst Dave asked for quick soundbites.
Turning left out of Aviemore and heading up the ski road has always sparked a sense of excitement in me, the Cairngorm’s tower above you and provide so many possibilities, adventure always awaits. Today, I tucked in behind Tobias for the start of the 9 mile uphill ride, before darting off to the left to join the Old Logging Way which winds its way through Rothiemurchus forest to the shores of Loch Morlich, here I rejoined Tobias on his much slower road bike. From the loch, we rode together, through the snow gates and onto the main climb up to the ski station. We slowly climb above the treeline, out onto the open mountainside. Behind us, the stunning vista drops away from us, occasionally the bright red Mini would appear with Dave shouting encouragement as we battled into a strong head wind, whilst grinding uphill, short of breath. With jelly legs, we arrive at an almost empty carpark, a biting wind and only a short run between us and a hot mug of coffee, it’s not a time to hang around.
As the train slowly inches down the funicular, we leave Dave fixing the bikes to the roof of the Mini, with warnings of 50 mile an hour winds and minus 8 wind chill ringing in our ears, we follow the trail as it climbs it way up the mountain side. Our calves are soon screaming as we push forward, the effort of the bike ride reminding us that we are human. In parts, we are almost blown uphill by the wind as we cross patches of snow weaving our way up the hill. 35 minutes later we gratefully find shelter at the top station, moment’s before the funicular arrives with Dave – it seems running up is faster than waiting for the train!
We watch from the warmth of the cafe, as storm clouds turn to snow, the wind doesn’t seem to be about to stop, so finishing our coffee we head back out into the cold. Waving goodbye to Dave as the doors of the funicular start to close, we laugh and shout that we will see him at the bottom first. Racing from the station, we set off running down the hill, temptation talking more than sense, we head for the fall line, straight down the tow line of the M1 Poma ski tow. Just before we reach halfway, we are passed by the funicular train and we can see Dave filming from the window, we push on, leaping through banks of snow and over rocks. Almost ten minutes later, we arrive gasping in the carpark just as Dave emerges from the station. The result, running is faster on the way down as well.
Half an hour later I wave goodbye, to Tobias and Dave as they head off in the Mini for Loch Lomond, the next National Park on the tour. I hope to see them both back in the Cairngorms this winter as today’s adventure has only brushed the surface of what this National Park has to offer.
You can follow the rest of the #MiniActionMan Road Trip around the National Parks over on Hard as Trails